Last year we had the opportunity to take a trip Bilbao as Jit was speaking at a conference there. To be totally honest with you, I knew very little of the place. In this post, I will share with you my first impressions of Bilbao.
First impressions of Bilbao
Even before heading to the airport, I was aware of the Guggenheim art gallery which seemed to be centre stage of the city. Of course, this delighted me as I love art and galleries. What I didn’t realise was the impact the building had on both the landscape and the economics of the city. (I will go into that more in another post)
Our transfer bus swung around the roads seemingly chiselled into the hills and the first thing we spotted was the incredible building. It looked like a larger version of the Imperial War Museum North, but with some added colour. Oh and of course the giant floral dog marking the entrance (if you pardon the pun!)
From the ground
Feet firmly on the ground after getting off the bus, we took a few minutes to just take in the area. It was fascinating to be able to see the winding river, modern buildings, tree covered hills and main roads in all one view. I wasn’t expecting that! Even knowing that Bilbao is a pretty decently sized city, I didn’t expect it to have such a varied landscape.
Although we would have loved to have lingered a little longer, we still had our backpacks on. So that we could make the most of the first moments in the city, we decided to walk to the hotel. Which, in itself becomes part of the adventure and forms first impressions of Bilbao. Google maps at the ready, we took a round about way to the hotel to get checked in.
We were booked into the grand looking Hotel Carlton, which sat around the ends of a park on a roundabout. It was unusual to see such a people filled space in the middle of pouring traffic, but it worked! I would find myself here regularly, planning routes or generally relaxing in the sunshine.
After unloading ourselves and settling into our room, the evening was starting to draw in. We had made plans to head to one of the recommended vegan restaurants for our tea but wanted to explore a bit further before eating. Heading down the New York-esque streets, you could see mountains beyond the lines of buildings and cars. Luckily the time was just right to catch the sunset too. It really did feel rather metropolitan at this time in the evening.
Different on every corner
My first impressions of Bilboa changed at almost every corner. From wide open roads with distant views, to closely built high-rise flats above tight junctions. One thing that stayed constant was that I liked it. I didn’t quite know why at the time, but it felt like a good place to be.
Like any city the world over there are areas of affluence and areas of a poorer population. I imagined that this was what we were experiencing. Especially being so centrally based in Bilbao. Perhaps that was what I enjoyed about it. That it was a bit rough around the edges, like Manchester.
After our meal, the sky had turned to night. The street lights were glowing and the reflection rippling on the river. The many different bridges across the water looked so inviting that we spent a good hour walking across and taking pictures of the night.
Into the night
It is amazing how different a place can look and feel after dark. Some places seem to emit a sense of danger, but not Bilbao. The warm light, plentiful people doing exactly the same as we were (wandering) give it a feel of a very relaxed place to be. Friendly too. It is hard to describe really, other than buzzy not busy. I’ll leave that feeling to your imagination, but I ma sure you’ve experiences somewhere similar.
My first impressions of Bilboa were that it was different to the other Spanish cities I have visited. Unsure whether it had anything to do with the history, or the fact that it was in Basque Country, I was definitely intrigued to find out more.
Heart of Art
Walking up and down the river, it was certainly clear that the city had a heart for art. The Guggenheim at the centre with beautiful sculptural bridges, works of art and architecture spanning out from it. Something which always catches my attention anywhere I visit.
With tiredness catching up with us, we made our way back to the hotel along the riverbank, determined to see as much of the city in our first few hours. The final thing I noticed about Bilbao was the decorative bricks used in for the pavements. Like a geometric floral design which stood out particularly well in the warm glow if the street lights.
Ending the first few hours in Bilbao
I think it is easy to get a gut feeling from a place, even from only a few hours there. My first impressions of Bilbao was that it was a curious city with plenty of stories to tell. Somewhere with a history of the Industrial Revolution, regeneration and progress, which is always something which draws me in. I liked the relaxed feel of the place. The gentle atmosphere and rolling mountains in the distance. It seemed a bit like a Spanish-speaking Sheffield with the amount of greenery blended into the city patchwork.
With all that we had seen in the first few hours, I knew I was going to enjoy experiencing life in Bilbao and exploring every avenue on foot. I was sure I would be finding some gems. And you know what? I most certainly did.
So how about you? Have you visited Bilbao? What were your first impressions of the city?
Let me know in the comments below.